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TEM: powerful enhancement in advanced imaging services     


A new Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) has recently been purchased within the framework of Solliance.* Installed and operated by Philips Innovation labs, it allows inspection of material properties and reactions between materials at the atomic level. Materials engineered at the nanometer scale, such as quantum dots or core/shell nanoparticles, can be analyzed in detail.

The TEM microscope has been acquired to aid the development of thin film solar cells. Together, TU/e and Philips Innovation labs are building a huge knowledge database and exchanging their findings. The new test facility is physically housed at Philips Innovation labs on the Eindhoven High Tech Campus, because Innovation labs possesses the necessary knowledge and experience to operate the TEM. “This technology makes detailed analyses possible, which couldn’t be carried out in any other way,” explains Marcel Verheijen, TEM application specialist, Philips Innovation labs . “With the newest thin-film solar cells, as well as many other devices, you need to examine the three-dimensional distribution of elements within a single layer. Some of the vital layers in these devices are sensitive to the electron beam. Thus, studying them implies damaging them. Our new microscope allows us to make analyses without this distortion. Previously, the sample might be destroyed before sufficient measurements were made. When using a ‘normal’ electron microscope, a material such as graphene disintegrates before you can even take a good look!”


Closer look at Material Analysis expertise:

“Optical microscopes make use of visible light, which prevents you from seeing details beyond the micrometer length scales. The Transmission Electron Microscope uses electrons instead of visible light. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of operating the TEM. One method is taking an ultra-thin material sample, shining a beam of electrons through it, and then enlarging that image. That allows you to look at materials at an atomic level. A newer method is ‘squeezing’ the electron beam until it has the diameter of an atom. This can then be focused on a specific portion of the sample, allowing us to see how it is composed. With this technique, we can extract far more detailed data from smaller samples. As we have access to both TEM modes, we can examine an enormous range of materials properties at the greatest levels of detail.”

“We do a great deal of work for external parties, who contact us when they have production queries. Of course, we don’t just operate the equipment but bring decades’ worth of materials knowledge to the table. This helps us to carry out ‘troubleshooting’ for customers, analyze test outcomes and come up with specific proposals for improvements. As nanotechnology keeps developing, we can keep providing R&D experts with the services they need. This is fairly unique - there are very few TEMs to be found outside the academic community, let alone complete with advice and support!” Nanoparticles and solar technology “The TU/e - in particular the research group Plasma & Materials Processing of the Department of Applied Physics - is working on new generations of solar cells where properties are largely determined by the interfaces and surfaces,” explains Professor Erwin Kessels, who is heading the Plasma & Materials Processing group at the TU/e. “For example, the efficiency of a solar cell is largely determined by the presence of interface layers which often are no thicker than a few atoms.”

Photo: 2 Examples from the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM). Scale bar in right image: 5 nm.
“The operation of electronic devices such as solar cells can often be improved by the introduction of nanoparticles, nanotubes, nanowires or 2D materials such as graphene. Therefore, it is extremely important to be able to study the materials and interfaces atom-by-atom. Philips Innovation labs has the knowledge and experience required to uncover the most detailed information using advanced electron microscopes. As the areas of expertise of the TU/e and Philips Innovation labs are complementary, we can move scientific and technological boundaries. The cooperation also makes the most of existing knowledge, expertise, skills and facilities of the Eindhoven Brainport region, which has become the Netherlands’ key solar technology area.”

Photo: TEM application specialist Dr. Marcel Verheijen, Material Analysis, Philips Innovation labs operates the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).


*The new TEM has been financed by the Province of Noord Brabant as part of Solliance. Solliance is an alliance that brings together the R&D activities in thin-film solar cells of TU/e, TNO, Holst Centre, ECN, Imec and Forschungszentrum Jülich. The location of the new TEM on the High Tech Campus is next to the Solliance building.